Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women (an update)

July 18, 2006

Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women (an update)

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The response by police authorities to reports of missing women or girls, including cases where there are witnesses to their abduction, continues to be inadequate. Amnesty International received many reports of cases where police authorities had failed in their duty to take urgent action to prevent injury to women and girls believed to be at immediate risk. Amnesty International considers that the state's failure to respond appropriately and effectively to emergency calls or reports of missing women engages its responsibility for their subsequent murders. The state must improve the ability of officers to respond to such calls, and those officers who fail to discharge their duties effectively must be held to account.

While Amnesty International was informed that talks are underway within the Commission to Address Femicide to create a database which would record and cross-reference cases of disappeared women and girls with the discovery of dead bodies, at the time of writing no such mechanism existed. Of the 176 killings of women between 1 January and 26 March 2006, 24 % of the victims were unidentified on the autopsy report. In an apparent effort to improve the ability to identify victims of women who are killed as a result of domestic violence, the Office of Attention to the Victim (Oficina de Atención a la Victima - OAV) has reportedly begun to take finger prints of women who present complaints of domestic violence.

In the case of Cristina Hernández (see first page) the police failed to respond to the desperate pleas of her family despite neighbours having witnessed her abduction. Similarly, neighbours also witnessed the abduction of 18-year-old student Paola Ninet Gil Escobar, by four men in a green car with no number plates and tinted windows close to her home in the municipality of Amatitlán on the outskirts of Guatemala City on 28 March 2006. Her parents called the police immediately as the car drove slowly down the hill towards the main road, but were reportedly told that without more details the police could not take action. The following morning their daughter's dead body was found dumped in a nearby river in Amatitlán, her head covered with a black bag and her hands tied. She had reportedly been raped and strangled.

Police agents are obliged to take immediate action to locate women who have been reported missing or respond to emergency calls where witnesses report that someone has been abducted. To Amnesty International's knowledge in neither of the above cases are the officers who failed to respond to reports of abductions facing any disciplinary measures.

Continued lack of effective protection measures means that in many cases survivors of gender-based violence, their families and witnesses are too afraid to give testimony. Fear of reprisals and lack of available protection were quoted by both the PNC and Public Ministry as one of the main reasons why investigations were archived. As highlighted by the IECCP "there is no institutionalized policy of protection for victims and other individuals subject to penal cases which directly correlates to a retraction or abandonment [of testimony] during the trial."(30)

The murder of 26-year-old Clara Fabiola García, witness to the murder of two sisters, 15-year-old Ana Berta and 18-year-old Elsa Mariela Loarca Hernández on 7 August 2003 in Guatemala City bears testament to the failure of the authorities to guarantee the effective safety of witnesses. The testimony of Clara Fabiola, was key to securing the 100 year prison sentence in February 2005 against gang member Oscar Gabriel Morales Ortiz, alias "Small". On receiving his sentence "Small" reportedly threatened Clara Fabiola García that she would pay for testifying against him. On 4 July 2005 she was shot at in the town of Chimaltenango together with her aunt, 60-year-old Clara Luz García, who was killed immediately. Clara Fabiola García subsequently died in hospital. As is custom in Guatemala, the protection she was receiving as part of the Public Ministry's witness protection programme was terminated on the sentencing of "Small" despite the fact that she was still clearly at risk of retaliatory violence.

Invisibility of gender-related violence